Interitus

I attended the fifth Interitus anomaly this weekend. On the overall score, it was a dominating win for the Enlightened, largely on the basis of the special rule added for this one: every link from several cities to one particular portal in Texas was worth 20 points in the overall score. Before the event, teammates described that alternately as “Calvinball” and “a fair chance for the Enlightened to come back,” the latter of which made less sense to me since either side could go for it. There were 102 documented links (and more submitted late) for the Enlightened and 0 for the Resistance, making it a second golden snitch worth even more than the first one. I have no evidence if this was again running up the score on an empty field except “102-0″?

The nature of that extreme swing was somewhat cloaked because the points were awarded to the two primary sites, so it looked more like two big wins for the Enlightened. Removing both those points and the Resistance points for the global score, the Enlightened carried Santiago and squeaked a victory in Cincinnati, with the Resistance carrying every secondary site by at least 2:1 except for the one the Enlightened won 27:1.

I was on the ground in Cincinnati. Teammates reported that we were outnumbered, although I don’t know who outside Niantic has good numbers on that. We were often outnumbered where I was deployed, but I cannot promise that was indicative. The Enlightened seem to have a collective self-image of this as Protoss vs. Zerg (sadly, in a game where zerglings hit as hard as zealots), and I try not to believe my own propaganda without supporting evidence. Taking it as true, because the Resistance usually have much higher numbers, good organization narrowly carried the day. [Update: no, 222 Enlightened versus 194 Resistance, based on the stats I saw.]

I give all respect and credit to organizers, for it was an organized effort. There were team captains with flags, dedicated radio channels, stickers identifying teammates, maps, and teams assigned to individual objectives and roaming, along with half-team designations when further splits were needed. Folks were preparing for this for about as long as I have been playing Ingress, and it worked.

The scope of the event was impressive, especially when we rarely bring 8 people from the same faction together locally. I was deployed with 15 other people, including most of our home state participants and two local players (to know the local territory, two for when teams split). There were about a dozen teams for the Enlightened, mostly on foot but including bicycle and driving squads.

Being part of a large group is a very different thing than the usual solo or small group play. Solo, you can blow up anything given time and supplies, and you can build a level 5 portal. With 16 people, most of them at the level cap, a level 8 enemy portal can be destroyed and rebuilt for our team by the time you notice that the people walking with you have stopped to stare at their phones. It is just a tidal wave of force that generates its own supplies through those rebuilt portals. Nothing looks different in meatspace, but if you watch your Ingress scanner, you can watch a group move across the city by the wave of portals changing color and linking up with everything already passed. Of course, with several hundred players roaming in groups, the waves crashed and canceled each other out frequently.

My perspective of the event was constrained by my role as a foot soldier. The gameplay was not great. In casual Ingress, you walk around, seeing the area as you destroy and build. When your group’s assignment is to control approximately one block, and you split so that half of each group can cover half the block from one spot, you are mostly standing/sitting there and playing with your game interface. Destroy, deploy, repeat. The majority of my Interitus play was deploying resonators on 3 portals while the other team was shooting bursters at them. Because even top-level resonators last seconds against multiple level 8 bursters, it was not so much “defense” as repeatedly building the same sandcastle at high tide.

We had good tactics with dedicated and flexible roles, which is another part of how we punched a little above our weight; you are more effective as a coordinated group than as solo players working alongside each other. I fell into my Team Fortress 2 experience of calling out recon, basically narrating the flow of the fight on our target portals as we needed resonators, shields, or to re-conquer. At two of four measurements, we had our group together and away from the enemy team, so the narration was helpful.

At the other two, it showed that we were outnumbered locally. The Enlightened tactic was to leave a token half-team defense behind to keep the area contested while concentrating forces where the fight was winnable. That was exactly the tactic I would have chosen for myself. At our first fight, I recognized it as a battle of numbers and attrition: you win if you have enough people to monopolize an area, and you lose if you run out of resources. It is hard to run out of resources when you enter with 2000 items, but if you can make the enemy use their valuable resources early, you have an advantage in the later measurements. As I said, I was mostly a builder, deploying resonators, while most people seem to prefer the role of destroyer, blowing them up. I embraced a role I imagine most would find really boring: carefully placing resonators that would be blown up almost instantly to increase the amount of time and resources needed by the enemy offense. If the whole point of my being there is to tie up enemy players and resources while keeping a few portals in play, I am going to tie up as many players and resources as possible. If they can blow up my resonator in 4 attacks, and they have 8 people there, I am going to draw as many attacks as possible so they waste half of them, to say nothing of timing deployment to make them waste more or frustrate their attempts at counter-deployment.

Frustration with the interface and the number of players was the other major gameplay problem. The scanner could not update quickly enough to show what was happening. You refreshed as quickly as possible and sometimes just hoped what you were doing made sense or that the scanner would sync back up. You could fire an attack, and your target would stop existing before the animation resolved. You could build a resonator, click to build a second, and find that the enemy had destroyed all your resonators and claimed the portal in the time it took you to click. It is a good thing the game has no friendly fire. If your plan is to make the enemy waste attack resources, this is a really great problem to exploit, because they must fire off attacks faster than you build to get that effect where they can capture between your clicks, and if you slow down your clicking, they might be firing continuously at nothing. They have a lot of ammo but not unlimited ammo.

The critical limit for many people was XM (mana) rather than equipment. Yes, every attack used up a burster, but people arrived with 500+. You need XM to fuel those bursters, and dozens of players are emptying the local pool of XM the instant it fills. Players instead use energy cubes, which are in much more limited numbers and take time to use. They were constantly firing off top-level attacks; at one point, I switched to dropping minimum-level defenses, because they were almost free to deploy and they lasted just as long (less than a second). I was recorded as capturing one particular portal about 100 times in 15 minutes because I kept deploying the “first” resonator as a wave of attackers destroyed them. It was like getting paid for performing inventory maintenance in a PvP zone. [Update: I had the most portal captures of anyone there, and someone else from my town was in the top 5 (and #2 overall for resonators deployed. My having more captures with her with fewer deployments shows that plan of "wait and hope they waste some attacks, deploy, wait, deploy..."]

A larger example of making your enemy waste valuable resources came in fields. I am told that the Resistance prepared for Interitus by setting up nested fields the night before, huge fields that were anchored in three states and covered all of Cincinnati, and then carefully arranged to be eight layers deep. It sounded beautiful. I never saw it, because they put it up while dozens of Ingress players were in a party, almost all of whom are serious players; they had contacts back home, so teams were deployed to destroy the field anchors and grab the keys so they could not be rebuilt. And this happened between scoring cycles, so it was not even worth much. Meanwhile, green repeatedly broadcast on our radio channel not to deploy links early because they would get taken down before they counted. And then, at the stroke of the hours when the last measurement started, green tossed up a big field covering every portal in the last measurement. A later update announced that it was worth 0 points because the rules technically said it had to cover the whole field of play, not just all the portals in play, but it was not worth many points anyway and did much more to (1) bolster green morale for the final fight and (2) divert blue attention.

Our most epic battle was with even numbers of full groups competing for just one portal. We spent about 20 minutes fighting a group on the opposite side of the building, with us usually in control of the portal and therefore usually on defense. They exhibited some great timing and tactics in destroying our defenses, but they did not seem to be as organized in building, so we rarely lost the advantage for long. It was a grueling fight with lots of equipment used and swings in control between teams. And, as gameplay, it was me and a half-dozen people sitting in an alley pretending to put imaginary resonators around a small office building. It was mentally exhausting, and we were proud of how we executed as a team, but we sat in an alley for 20 minutes and deployed imaginary resonators, so I have some mixed feelings.

I missed the parties around the event due to competing concerns.

It was pleasant to meet some of the players from my region. It is like any game meet-up: you have seen the names in chat dozens of times, and now you meet them in person. As I have mentioned a few times, Ingress players tend to stare at their phones very intently as they play, so they can sometimes be difficult to engage in person just trying to get them to notice there are other people around. Like, someone I had met on the other team didn’t see me standing across an empty courtyard waving at her because she had resonators to check, darn it.

For our faction, I was the baron of sunblock. I brought a large bottle and supplied a few dozen people. I still managed to get lightly burned myself, which is funny. Had I to do it over again, I would have picked up a case of smaller sunblocks and a case of bottled water, then left them at our faction’s meet-up area so folks could pick supply up before deployment. Stopping for juice and a bathroom was one of our most important side treks.

Playing downtown in a city with skyscrapers presented some technical difficulties because GPS signals can have trouble with huge slabs of brick and metal. There were times when I would stand still and my scanner would show me roaming the block, which made precision deployment dicey. For a while, I was consistently shown as half a block off my physical location. There was one particularly annoying portal that I could approach physically but my GPS signal just seemed to orbit it.

Numerous people asked about the game, and I am told that some were successfully recruited on the spot. I mean, people staring at smartphones is nothing unusual, but a dozen of them wearing the same color all doing it together, and all of them with earpieces and extra batteries connected to their phones, and then a couple dozen groups of them all over the city — that kind of stands out. Some people got “FourSquare with a sci fi theme”; some people left with the idea that kids these days are really weird.

On the whole, an impressive display because of its scale. Although the individual moments of play were somewhat lacking, the collective felt like something, which one cannot always say of games. I am not sure how enthusiastic I would be about driving 5 hours each way for another anomaly event, assuming I still play Ingress then, but changing the scope of the game by several orders of magnitude effectively created a difference of kind.

: Zubon

[A few statistical updates, noted, based on stats a teammate provided (but I cannot verify). If I get a publicly sharable version, I will link them.]

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